We’d been talking for a few weeks. Met on Tinder, exchanged some (hopefully) witty banter largely based on my embarrassingly large collection of Harry Potter pyjamas, and agreed to meet for a drink. She had an accent, she worked in music, she had tattoos—all my pre-date boxes were suitably ticked off.
My friends were excited—this was my first proper date with someone since my break-up over a year ago, and I was flooded with messages asking me how it went. “Eh,” I responded, “I’m not sure I feel a spark.” The easy refrain for when you can’t be bothered to work out what the real problem is.
I persevered—a second date came around. And that was when I realized. She was just too tall.
Anyone who has met me in person will laugh at this. I am a whopping 5 feet tall. If I have issues with my partners being taller than me, I will be sorely lacking in options for people to date. How have I gotten this far if I only want to date people quite literally on my level, chorused my friends? I whined about having to go on tiptoe to hug her and feeling like a child walking next to her in the street. All fair enough—but how does the fact that my male ex was 5”11 and the last man I slept with was over 6 feet tall factor in?
I was suddenly at a loss. I had always considered my dating “type” to be the same irrespective of gender. Sometimes I fancy women, sometimes men, sometimes neither, sometimes both—it’s the person that matters, I self-effacingly claimed. But to what extent is that really true?
I mock and reprimand people all the time for gendered double standards, particularly in dating. If it’s fine for him to sleep with people on a night out, why can’t I? If he doesn’t have to shy away from having opinions on a first date to avoid seeming domineering, why should I?
But what if I am perpetuating the exact same stereotypes in my own dating life?
Potentially, the fact that I was put off by her height could be written off as a physical preference, like preferring redheads over brunettes or any other normal attraction preferences which everyone has. But I wasn’t put off by the tall men I’d had relationships with. The more I considered my attitude towards dating men and women as a bisexual woman, the more inconsistencies I found.
I have fallen into so many of the traps and pitfalls I point out to straight male friends of mine. I don’t think I’ve ever mocked a man for his appearance on a date, but I distinctly remember writing off one woman I met up with a few times for having lipstick on her teeth. As if we haven’t all been there. I’ve ghosted at least two women for texting me too much, whereas I have let keen men down gently with a reduced number of messages to avoid seeming “like a bitch.” The list of worries goes on.
How had it taken me so long to notice the hypocrisy in myself? I may be coming across like a terrible person here, but I promise I am accepting and encouraging of my female friends. I defend women that my male friends date and talk about negatively—so where does this behaviour in my own life come from?
I’ve tried to look at my own tendencies using the same lens through which I encourage other people to learn. What aspects of society encourage me to look at women in this way? What patriarchal lessons am I absorbing and mirroring?
For me, it stems from the fact that in the conservative British environment I grew up in, women were, and are, sexualised far more than men. Despite actively arguing against this in my adult life, some of my personal traits mirror such images with which I grew up. From being hushed and told I was being hysterical while my brother spoke his mind at the dinner table, to restrictive school dress codes forced upon young women while boys walked around during the summer in vest tops, the imbalance was everywhere. It shouldn’t surprise me as much as it did to see it reflected in my own sexuality.
But just because it’s not surprising doesn’t make it okay. Since the lightbulb moment when I looked at my past preferences and judgement and saw the patriarchal backdrop behind almost all of them, I hope I will move forward with the awareness to counteract them. Feminism often forces us to relearn things that we were taught as children and even throughout our lives—this has just opened a new realm for me to re-evaluate.
By perpetuating these societal lessons in my own behavior and dating life, even subconsciously, I am unwittingly contributing to the atmosphere that validates the hypersexualization of women. While men are also subject to scrutiny for their appearance, for women it can be a defining factor of their value or the only way people notice them at all. People who are deemed attractive by society are statistically given priority in the job market, in clothing options, even just in day-to-day interactions, and women suffer far more than men do from this phenomenon.
I don’t have all the answers yet, but in the future, I am going to internally consider my dating decisions more closely and be careful that the people I choose to engage with are determined based on their actual merits or flaws, rather than prescribed criteria taught to me by a patriarchal society.